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29 Controlled Complexity

Don’t let looks fool you. There is often an easily understood rationale behind complex-looking palettes.

Take the hues in this illustration as a case in point. The palette employed here began as a single blue-green seed hue (learn about seed hues on the previous spread). This seed hue became the founding member of a triadic palette. After that, the triad expanded to include at least one darker, lighter, brighter, and more muted version of each of the palette’s members before being applied to this spread’s illustration. And then, in the interest of generating further connotations of visual complexity, several of the composition’s elements were made transparent and allowed to overlap to produce additional hues.

Don’t feel intimidated the next time you’re tasked with developing a visually complex palette. Start with a seed hue and let things grow (and grow and grow) from there. And also feel free to throw in whatever extra hues you feel like adding (see Whatever Looks Good, page 60, for more on this idea).


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When is it time to stop adding—or removing—colors from a palette? When the palette has exactly as many colors as it needs to do its job—no more and no less. And when is that? That, of course, is up to you to decide.

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